Just this week, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her 6oth anniversary as a monarch and announced her plans to continue to serve her nation in the years to come. She’s a very young 85, and her husband, Prince Phillip, is 90. She has worked with 12 prime ministers during her 60 years on the throne and has signed 3500 bills into law. Only the second British monarch to celebrate a diamond anniversary on the throne, she remembered her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, as the other. In her yellow suit and trademark matching hat, she spoke of using the wisdom of old age to guide her in her work.
Queen Elizabeth II isn’t the only one who recognizes the wisdom of old age. Dr. Ephraim Engleman, aged 100, continues to practice medicine and see patients on a regular basis. He says he has no reason to retire, since his age presents no problem for him or his patients. He has been on the faculty of the University of California since 1948 and still maintains an office there, in addition to his private practice.
Fox News has featured Dr. Fred Goldman, who at age 100, is the oldest licensed internist in the state of Ohio. He makes house calls, too, if his patients are too sick to come to him. One patient said, “I come to Dr. Goldman because he’s seen it all and he knows everything.”
“Work is life,” he said. “I work on demand. If there’s not much demand, there’s not much work. Fortunately, the demand exists. I feel I can still be helpful to people. And, I can still do the job. So, there’s no sense to consider retirement.”
Many, many older people are working at important jobs across this great country from sea to shining sea and why on earth shouldn’t they be if they are still healthy. As a nation we’d be foolish not to take advantage of all that wisdom. I have a CPA friend in Atlanta who is facing forced retirement soon. The company she has worked for since the late ‘60s has adopted a new policy. Every employee still working at age 70 must retire. That makes no sense to me. Marge rarely is sick and is absent from work fewer days than her younger co-workers. She’s quite efficient and has served the company well. And this is the reward she gets for faithful service.
There seems to be a move in business, in education, and across the spectrum of employers to send the older workers home and let the younger ones take over. I suspect that much of this movement is financially motivated. Younger workers are cheaper. They haven’t worked their way up the ladder to higher salaries yet. I know this is frequently the case in education. If they have a choice, systems opt for cheaper, younger, inexperienced teachers.
If older people are healthy, then by all means let them work. Encourage them to work. They’ve learned in the life’s classrooms. My father used to tell me that he’d already forgotten more than I knew. I think he was teasing, but some days I wasn’t sure. He was indeed a smart man and knew just about everything worth knowing. I can’t think of any time that he ever led me astray with his advice.
Now science has stepped forward to prove that wisdom does undeniably come with age. A group of scientists studied brain scans of 3,000 Californians aged between 60 and 100 and discovered that Granny really was right all along. She’s wiser now than she used to be. The brain slows down with age, but that allows people to increase insight. Elderly brains are not controlled by the chemicals that stimulate emotion and impulse. So what older people lose in reaction times, they make up for in better decision-making. Professor Dilip Jeste of the University of California, said that the scans have identified four brain regions that contribute to wisdom. The elderly have more activity in these regions than the young, which results in their wiser judgments.
When I was growing up, my mother often said to me: “Live and learn; die and forget it all.” If we have any intelligence in this country, we’d better try to take advantage of some of that wisdom before it’s too late.